With the Stanley Cup Playoffs nearing an exciting climax with two Game Sevens this weekend, there is probably only one ongoing storyline that no one is surprised by: Henrik Lundqvist has carried the New York Rangers all the way to the cusp of the Stanley Cup Finals with a stellar, Conn Smythe-worthy performance. While Lundqvist is widely considered one of the best, if not THE best, goalie in the league, there is one accolade he has yet to earn: a Stanley Cup ring. Already boasting three all-star game nods, a Vezina Trophy, and an Olympic gold medal, capturing a Stanley Cup this season could cement King Henrik’s legacy as one of the greatest goalies of all time.
The Berth of a Star
Drafted in the 7th round, 205th overall in 2000, no one expected New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist to blossom into the future Hall of Famer he is today. While it took some time to make it to the NHL, Lundqvist finally broke into the spotlight at Madison Square Garden in the 2005-2006 season. Surprisingly starting 53 games for the playoff-bound Rangers, Lundqvist won 30 games and was a finalist for both the Calder Trophy and the Vezina Trophy. Tabbed the de facto starter to begin the 2006-2007 season, Lundqvist took hold of the Rangers’ crease and has never looked back, winning at least 30 games in every season since (save for the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season).
Lundqvist has been one of the most consistent starting goaltenders in the NHL since he entered the league all the way back in 2005, starting the most games of any goalie (620) since 2005 and boasting the second-most wins of any active goalie with 339, trailing only Panthers star Roberto Luongo’s 401. He has also been a workhorse, tallying over 70 games started four times and ranking in the top 5 of shots against four times as well. While he has only been recognized as the league’s top goalie with the Vezina trophy once, after the 2011-2012 season, he is consistently among the league’s very best, placing in the top 3 of Vezina voting a stunning five times.
Playoff Struggles and Emergence
While Lundqvist experience immediate regular season success, the same cannot be said for his postseason play. Following his impressive rookie season, Lundqvist’s Rangers were swept by the New Jersey Devils in the first round, with King Henrik putting up not so King-like stats of a 4.41 goals-against average and a .835 save percentage. His playoff mediocrity continued, as during the 2009 playoffs, the Rangers were knocked out in the first round by the Alex Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals with Lundqvist allowing 3.08 goals per game.
Instead of settling for being considered just a great regular-season goalie, Lundqvist went out and proved his reputation as one of the NHL’s best with stellar playoff performances in several consecutive years. Every season since his Vezina winning 2011-2012 season, the Lundqvist-backstopped Rangers have advanced past the first round of the playoffs, with Lundqvist putting up a sub-2.20 goals against average and a save percentage above .925. He also can showcase his incredible talents at critical times in the game, such as this save in game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens last season:
Despite his Herculean numbers in the playoffs and ability to carry the Rangers through tough playoff series, there is one title he has yet to earn – Stanley Cup champion.
2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Entering his ninth Stanley Cup run, it seems as if King Henrik has ramped up his game searching for his first crown. He has put forth one of the best efforts of his career, delivering wins over offensive powerhouses Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Facing stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos, there might not have been a tougher road to the Cup final, but all it will take to triumph is one game seven win on Friday night. The Rangers have their sights set on either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks in the final, and there may not be a better goaltender to ice for the toughest test of their season so far. Lundqvist is the NHL record holder with six consecutive game seven wins, putting up otherworldly numbers with a 0.97 goals-against average to pair with a .966 save percentage.
King Henrik Lundqvist
While Lundqvist will be remembered as one of the greatest Rangers goalies of all time, his legacy could be cemented by clinching his first Stanley Cup victory this season. Statistically, he is already in the conversation for that title, but former great Mike Richter will always be remembered as the backstop of the Rangers last championship team in 1994. While King Henrik has already proven himself worthy as a Rangers’ legend, he could end the conversation as to who is the greatest of all time with his first Stanley Cup win in 2015.
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11